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“Hong Kong at 15”: Jonathan Solomon and Chan Yiu Hung in Discussion

As the second program in this year’s 2013 presidential theme “Global City/Global Practice,” this discussion at the Center for Architecture focused its attention on Hong Kong, one of the world’s densest cities. The dialogue also continued to explore New York-based Kohn Pedersen Fox’s (KPF) Hysan Place and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architect’s International Financial Centre (IFC), as they influence and are influenced by Hong Kong’s culture and urban context.

The speakers leading the discussion were Jonathan D. Solomon, AIA, curator of the “Hong Kong at 15” exhibit and co-author of Cities without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook, and Chan Yiu Hung, Hong Kong photographer and founder of the Hong Kong Cultural Imaging Workshop.

Solomon compared Hong Kong to New York City, stating that unlike New York, Hong Kong is built on steep slopes and thus is a city without ground. He described how Hong Kong’s large population and tall building density, combined with its mountainous landscape, produced a city where “the perception of distance and time is distorted through the networks of pedestrian infrastructure, public transport, and natural topography in the urban landscape.” In his book Cities Without Ground, Solomon uses complex axonometric maps to depict Hong Kong’s opaque pedestrian networks; the diagrams combine walkways, train paths, and urban and green landscapes, and describes the multiple layers that coexist in Hong Kong’s urban planning.

As a photographer, Hung began his presentation with his commercial work, which he described as being “very Hong Kong.” These bold visual advertisements portrayed Hong Kong as a “trade city,” adding a capitalist point of view to Solomon’s conversation about urban density. One image in particular romanticized a product by featuring it in the hands of a young couple swimming in a sea of red roses with Hong Kong’s waterfront skyline glowing in the background.

Hung continued his presentation with photographs of KPF’s Hysan Place and Pelli Clarke Pelli’s IFC towers. With these more artistic photos of architecture, Hung said that he faces challenges when representing the city’s rapidly evolving identity. In his images of Hysan Place and the IFC, Hung represents Hong Kong by blending the commercial and the cultural. As a result, when IFC is photographed from the street, it appears to blend into its multilayered urban context while keeping its monumentality; views from Hysan Place’s sky garden blends architecture and nature – a vital characteristic representative of Hong Kong’s natural environment.

International dialogue like that between curator Solomon and photographer Hung are vital in today’s architectural practice, because a growing number of projects are being generated abroad. “Global City/Global Practice” is an exciting and thought provoking theme, and I encourage emerging and seasoned architects  and designers alike to participate in these discussions. By bringing international projects to the forefront of architectural discourse, “Global City/Global Practice” is giving local architects the opportunity to learn about design opportunities and challenges found overseas.

Event: Hong Kong at 15 – A Discussion Between Curator Jonathan D. Solomon and Photographer Chan Yiu Hung
Location: Center for Architecture, 1.12.12
Moderator: Jill Lerner, FAIA
Speakers: Jonathan D. Solomon, AIA; Chan Yiu Hung, Hong Kong-based Photographer
Organizers: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee, AIA Hong Kong, and Asia Society Hong Kong

Marvine Pierre, Assoc. AIA, is an architectural designer at Kohn Pedersen Fox, and a contributing writer to e-Oculus. She is also a member of the Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) Committee.